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All of the largely non-existent build for the Badd Blood pay per view at the beginning of October 1997 faded to nothing as the news broke of the passing of Brian Pillman. Pillman had worked the previous evenings house show in Minnesota, before going to bed, never to wake up following a heart attack. He was found shortly after midday on the day of the show, having missed the bus to the show.
While this isn’t a place to try and celebrate or quantify Pillman’s career, others with more knowledge and eloquence have already done that, it cut Pillman off at a time where his career was in a bit of a flux. While there’s no doubt that in his early 1990s light heavyweight matches and his 1996 unstable character were both ahead of their time, the after effects of a car accident in 1996 and a resulting ankle injury that had never fully healed meant that while entering possibly the prime earning years of his career Pillman had a character that few could match yet was struggling for an in-ring identity that could go with it.
That bought us to one of the major storyline builds ahead of the show, Pillman’s latest trick was a series of skits called “Pillman’s XXX Files” a series of handicam videos from his hotel room alluding to the presence of Goldust’s wife Marlene. The story was going to transition to Marlene leaving Goldust for Pillman (in an angle that would presumably be designed to breathe some life in Goldust’s failing character).
The match never takes place, neither does plans for Pillman wrestling Dude Love. Combine that with much of a roster that, a mere hours following the news breaking, really didn’t want to perform and also one that was walking wounded, meant that this card that already looked flat on paper was essentially turned into a one match affair. Fortunately, that match looked pretty good.
Quite what the WWF had in mind when they first came up with “Hell In A Cell” is anybody’s guess. The idea of a cage enveloping the ring had already been done by WCW (see their Thundercage) and a cage with a roof had already been done before (see WarGames). And it’s not the WWF had even particularly done a massive job in pushing it – the furthest they got was describing as a structure where “nobody could get out, and nobody could get in”.
Speaking of things the WWF had sorta forgotten to mention was Undertaker’s brother Kane. In 2017, with a similar angle, the WWE would’ve been ramming it down our throats that Kane was coming, in the WWF in 1997 it was a fair bit different. There was an argument they shot their load on the story, covering about 4 or 5 chapters in a barmy one hour of Raw, before the whole thing largely went away for a while. As WCW were finding out with Sting, if you tease something too hard fans will stop caring about your matches as they wait for the interference. In that sense, the WWF had played a great card – ensuring that the Michaels/Undertaker match would be able to go ahead without fans looking up the aisle way. They were all the better for it.
The Nation Of Domination (Rocky Maivia, Kama and D’Lo Brown w/ Farooq) vs The Legion of Doom (Hawk and Animal)
Speaking of the walking wounded – this was a match that was also supposed to include Ken Shamrock – who got injured. So they went with 3 on 2 and this was… rubbish. If we’re clutching at positives, the crowd like chanting “Rocky sucks”, and the LOD are good at power moves. That’s probably it. There’s a pop when D’Lo inadvertently elbow drops Rocky attempting to break up a pin, but after a Farooq comes out with a distraction Rocky picks up the win with a don’t-call-it-a-rock-bottom-yet-uranage slam. Not good.
Mozaic and Tarantula vs Max Mini and Nova
The minis are in an odd spot in the WWF in the sense that nobody particularly knows why they’re there – they’re the anthesis of the size that Vince McMahon looks for, and they’re so small they’re really difficult to take seriously. This wasn’t the only match thrown together at the last minute, and it showed – these four tried really hard but with no formula or plan very little stuck. The highlight of all of this is Lawler, who's having an absolute riot on commentary fighting every fibre in his being not to tell a series of short jokes. He sneaks in a few, Max Mini takes it with a cruicifix pin for the three.
We see a commerical narrated by Todd Pettengil advertising a Steve Austin shirt. Pettengil, by this point, actually no longer was with the company, instead he was shopping himself to WCW – apparently he wanted $300,000 a year, a salary I don't believe even Rey Mysterio was on at the time. Funnier still was Pettengil says the shirt costs $20, the graphic says $25...
The Godwinns (Henry O, Phineaus I w/ Uncle Cleatus) vs The Headbangers (Mosh & Thrasher) for the WWF Tag Team Titles
This was every bit as bad as you would expect – Phineaus gets dropped on his head at one point, the camera misses a headscissors by Thrasher (which very possibly was the best part of the match). Not much else happens until Phineaus catches Mosh coming off the top into a powerbomb and wins the match and the titles.
After a pretty drab Owen Hart interview we cut to the ring for a celebration of some of the legends from St Louis Wrestling. I suspect this was setup as something that wasn't planned to air that would sell tickets, but given that they had to shuffle the card around so much they decided to air it. It was pretty good, the video packages were really nice and it was a real nice boon for the live crowd. Nothing massively memorable, though. We see presentations for Jack Brisco, Dory Funk Jr, Gene Kiniski, Terry Funk, Harley Race, Sam Muchnick and Lou Thesz.
Farooq vs Owen Hart for the Vacant Intercontinental Title
An absolute non-event of a match. Owen clearly isn't in the mood to do anything, neither really is Steve Austin (who becomes the focus of the entire match as he essentially dicks about on commentary). I cannot understate how little happened here, most of the match took place inside a split screen as Austin was messing about with the announcers. Owen may not have even thrown a shot in anger, the whole point of all this was to setup a finish where Austin cost Farooq the match (by hitting him with the title belt), so Owen wins the title back and gets the opportunity to go at it again
Los Boricuas vs The Disciples Of Apocalypse
I mean, these matches are absolutely terrible when they're planned out, and predictably they were even worse with they weren't. They tried, but there's so little heat behind either side literally the only thing that gets the crowd excited is when it's one giant unco-ordinated brawl. And for most of this match it wasn't... I'm not going to waste your time any more – Crush wins it with of all things a backbreaker and this rivlarly will never end. Remember the two weeks when this feud was interesting?
Bret Hart & The British Bulldog vs Vader and The Patriot in a Flag Match
So... it was actually a flag match, but they changed the rules earlier in the show so it was a flag match that could be won by pinfall or submission (as well as capture the flag). Apparently they worked out the flagpoles were nowhere near strong enough (particularly for a match involving Vader and Bulldog) - but the nearest this got to a flag match was just a set piece so people could get thrown off the turnbuckle etc...
This was almost surprisingly bad – even when you consider the circumstances of the day and the injuries they were seemingly all carrying (I believe they all came in with something). No heat, an uncoordinated but plodding brawl. The action is fine, Patriot reverses a sharpshooter, Bret hits Vader with a ring bell, Vader goes for a Vadersault, sees Bulldog move and somehow lands on his feet in the most impressive spot of the match. After a fan vaults into the ring and Bulldog sees him off, Bret rolls up Patriot for the win. Flat match, flat finish. Move on.
Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker in a Hell in a Cell Match
Where to begin with this one? I've always heard high praise about this match, but I never quite realised how right they were. This match may be as near to perfection as you might find in wrestling. The cell, for its part, looked great, they did a fantastic job putting that together (10x better than WCW's effort later in the month with their super cage). Once Shawn was locked inside the cage and it was just him, Undertaker and a referee I'm not sure how much acting was involved when it came to him being scared.
The opening portion of the match was Undertaker beating the piss out of Shawn. They started in the confinds of the ring but slowly expanded to start including elements of the cell into the match – firstly with a back body drop where Michaels' legs clipped the ceiling before they moved to the outside and the punishment continued as Undertaker found ways of using the cell walls as a weapon.
Michaels finally got a foothold in the match with a tope into the cage wall and an elevated elbow drop by climbing the cage. He finds the space to perform a piledriver onto the ringsteps, then gets a bit shirty with one of the cameramen for getting in his way. They make their way into the ring, Taker then sends Michaels flying over the top and straight onto the cameraman. Not content with that Michaels then hits him a few times for good measure.
That sets up the biggest spot of the match. Unlike WCW later in the month, who treated the confinds of the cage with the same security that they did the NWO membership, the WWF had a plan to lock the cage door and they meant it. Still, you couldn’t build a roof and not use it, right? So with the "injured" cameraman needing a way out they unlocked the door and Michaels and Undertaker followed and got onto the roof. Taker hits a bodyslam, then throws Michaels near the edge, Micheals falls over the side and Taker kicks him off sending him crashing through the Spanish announcers table.
We return to the ring, Michaels is now dripping blood from an earlier blade job, probably not helped when Taker smashes him over the head with a chair. Then the lights go out, an organ starts playing... and out comes "Kane" - Undertaker's storyline brother. And boy does he look shit-your-pants scary dressed all in red and black. He tombstones Undertaker, Michaels' lifelessly crawls over to Undertaker to pick up the win. And breathe...
What a bloody match that was – an absolutely insane eye for detail in a match that had everything. It's no wonder people like it so much.
Score Rating: 5/10
Go Back And Watch: The main event.